Walk a Mile, Tales of a Wandering Loon review

Here’s a great review on Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon

Outdoor prescription and me

It’s funny how trails can lead to things on the internet. As a service user of Mental Health services I have found the Masked AMHP blog to be helpful in answering some of the questions or concerns I’ve had about my care, it’s also a useful insight into Mental Health provision in the UK and provides answers or thoughts into how legislation is applied. I recently discovered that the blog has a facebook group which I also followed. A member of the group recently shared that they’d had a book published detailing their diagnosis and subsequent treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (NB I will refer to it as BPD for the rest of this review). The book appealed for me for many reasons which I will detail later in this review, what also appealed to me was some of the profits go to the Shaw Mind Foundation. Its funny…

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#42Days A #HungerStrike in protest against #UniversalCredit #SevereDisabilityPremium

One of the great claims of the supporters of Universal Credit at it was rolled out around the country, was that it would target those in greatest need…

Well…NewsFlash…it has…but it may not come as a great surprise to you, it hasn’t been in a good way.

Although I’ve mentioned this in passing – I’ve been particularly focused on the unacceptable 42, come February 35 day delay between the application for Universal Credit and receiving any money – people with the most severe disabilities have borne the brunt of the most massive cuts of austerity.

We hear that Universal Credit is crunching 6 benefits into one – we’re told that this simplified the system.

In that process, a little known benefit, Severe Disability Allowance, has simply vanished.

This means that the folk who were previously defined as having the most severe disabilities in our society have had £62.45 a week cut from their income – that’s £124.90 for a couple.

That works out at a cut of £3247.40 a year for individuals and £6494.80 for couples.

We’re not all in this together

Tragically, this is the tip of a particularly pernicious iceberg.

People who are reliant on benefits have also been hit with the ‘spare room subsidy’ – the bedroom tax – where they lose 14% of their housing benefit for 1 empty room in their home and 25% for 2 or more.

The average rent in the UK in 2017 was £908 per month – so that’s a tax of our poorest people of around £2724 a year.

This is when there are no alternatives available – so this is has been little more than a straight cut in their income. With no meaningful choice, peole have been forced to pay the top up directly from their disability benefits.

And there’s more..

There’s been a further shift in disability benefits…disability living allowance has been transformed into the new…improved…personal independence payment (PIP)…

When I say new and improved, I mean the government have taken this opportunity to lop more money from people’s incomes.

Folk with mental health problems who’ve applied for, or who’ve been transferred over to the new benefit have found it rather physical – centric.

Thousands of people with mental health problems have lost the mobility component of their disability benefit, because there’s nowhere to shoehorn their needs into the astonishingly restrictive forms.

This means that many folk in this group have lost a further £22.00, possibly £58.00 per week.

That’s a further cut of between £1,144 and £3,016 a year – purely because of a failing in the assessment process.

Add to that the current freeze in benefits, which is basically a further 4% cut in people’s incomes…

I’m so tempted to dive into the cuts into services – local and national – here, but this is clearly enough.

The next time you hear a politician or representative of the department of work and pensions declaring that we’re targeting our most disabled people in our benefits system, ask for a bit of clarification. I’m fairly sure they don’t want you to know that we’ve cut the incomes of thousands of people with disabilities and/ or mental health problems by up to £8987.40 a year.

In other news…I started eating again today…puréed pears…but after going through the above financial shenanigans, it feels like that’s paling into insignificance..

Walk a Mile

Chris

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#42Days A #HungerStrike in protest against #UniversalCredit Day 42

This is it folks…this is the big one…the last day of the hunger strike.

You know all the whys and wherefores behind it – and together we’ve made a bit of a noise – and I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’d like to ask a bit more from you all.

Remember – this is not about me!

It’s about the shitstorm that is being meted out on our most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable.

I’d like you all to contact your MP in whichever way you find most comfortable, and tell them that…

1) The 42 day wait between application and delivery of Universal Credit was never acceptable

2) Reducing that time by 7 days to 35 days is a derisory reduction. 35 days with no money is still unacceptable.

3) The convoluted system of crisis and/ or advanced payments aren’t fit for purpose – they just mean vulnerable people have to jump through more hoops – and bear in mind they have to repay that money from any future Universal credit they get.

4) The maximum time people must wait is 2 weeks.

5) The punitive system of benefit sanctioning must stop. It’s punishment without due legal process – and it has no place in a civilised society.

6) People with mental health problems are hugely over represented in this Draconian system – where DWP representatives can stop a person’s benefits for anything between 3 days and 3 years – for the heinous crimes of not filling out a form correctly or missing a meeting.

Instead of finding out what happened to the applicants, DWP staff sanction our fellow citizens when they’re at their most vulnerable.

7) Tell them it’s time to break the tired old rhetoric around people who claim benefits. They’re not ‘workless’, lazy, or in need of ‘tough love’

These people aren’t just like us – they are us.

We all have to work together to start breaking down that prejudice today.

8) Finally, for Universal Credit to work, it must come from a place of love and compassion – not one of suspicion. Remind them that only 0.7% of disability benefits are claimed fraudulently – our biggest problem is that roughly £2 Billion in benefits remain unclaimed.

Let’s make our welfare system into a real safety net – a service that we can be assured is there at our times of need and one that we can all have real pride in.

Remember, we live in a democracy – and together, we can make a difference.

Go on then! What are you waiting for?

Walk a Mile

Chris

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#42Days A #HungerStrke in protest against #UniversalCredit Day 37. I’m not afraid to say it, I’m a bit fucked.

This isn’t, nor has it ever been, about me. All I’ve ever wanted to do with this hunger strike is make a noise – to raise awareness of the terrible plight of our fellow citizens who find themselves plummeting into the maelstrom of debt caused by Universal Credit – the safety net that isn’t.

When I started out with this, applicants for Universal Credit were expected to wait 42 days for any money to come through.

Imagine…

These folk aren’t just like you and me – they ARE you and me. People who’ve been hit by some devastating event – a physical health problem – a mental health problem – sometimes both – folk who lose their job due to bad luck – find themselves floundering in a world of no services and no money.

A recent study by the British Medical Journal, you know, that loony left peddler of fake news, tells us that 120 thousand people have died prematurely in the UK since the start of austerity in 2010.

In a recent study by Mind, we’re told that 300 thousand people lost their jobs due to mental ill health last year – that’s a lot of people believing they’d signed up to a covenant with the government to ensure their ongoing wellbeing, only to watch the safety net being pulled away just when they need it.

Shelter tell us that there are now over 300 thousand homeless people in the UK – that’s the population of Newcastle!

Have we taken to the streets? Have we written to our MP’s in righteous indignation? Have we done anything to cry out for our most vulnerable at their most vulnerable?

We’ve heard that Universal Credit, instead of easing people through these difficult times, is actually compounding these difficulties.

We’ve had debates in parliament challenging the rollout of Universal Credit, where the government has lost horribly – and yet they continue to march inexorably on.

Yes, you’re absolutely right, in the recent budget, Philip Hammond made some concessions.

He told us that the 42 day wait would be reduced to 35 days and that people in greatest need would have access to money earlier. We’re told there are advance payments and/ or crisis payments (damned if I know what the difference is between the two) if people are found to be in sufficient need.

The thing is, these changes aren’t being fully implemented until spring next year.

In the meantime, people who are applying for Universal Credit TODAY who won’t get any money until the new year.

Because this system was rolled out with malicious policies built in, including a Draconian structure of sanctioning where folk can have their money stopped for anything between 3 days and 3 years for such heinous crimes as failing to attend a meeting or filling a form out incorrectly, folk are falling into spirals of debt from which they’ll never recover.

On Tuesday at the last parliamentary debate on Universal Credit, Frank Field had this story of devastation to tell the commons – that resulted in conservative MP, Heidi Allen openly weeping.

And still it continues.

People who’ve been in touch with me during the hunger strike tell me that they haven’t been informed about crisis payments – or they’ve been told that they can only claim 3 payments (which are half the amount of what they’d expect to receive when their Universal Credit comes through) over the 6 week (5 weeks in Spring next year) period.

When they’ve asked representatives at the department of work and pensions what they’re supposed to do for food, they’ve been told to go to food banks. And, let’s remember, folk can only get support from food banks 3 times a year.

Before this ridiculous system came into effect, we were told that some people were having to choose between heating and eating. Today, here in the UK, there are people who can afford to do neither.

I’ve been on hunger strike for just over 5 weeks, and I’m fucked. It’s effecting my sleep – I wake up because I’m hungry – I’m tired a lot of the time – and I feel the cold – hypothermia is a real threat.

I appreciate I’m privileged – I know this is coming to an end for me next Tuesday – I know I’ll be gently reintroducing myself to food on Wednesday.

I have heating. I can have baths to keep my core temperature up.

People applying for Universal Credit are haunted, crippled by the uncertainty surrounding the benefit – we’re told that over a quarter of applicants are waiting longer than 42 days…

I don’t have dependents relying on my Universal Credit coming through.

And still we do nothing.

What of the people who’ve suffered financially during phase one of this failing policy – no, sorry, it’s not failing, it’s doing exactly what it was set up to do.

Will they be compensated? Will the government pay off the eye wateringly high interest loans were the only option for many?

I can’t stress this enough. We live in a democracy – we can speak to our representatives – our local councillors – our MP’s – they’re infinitely contactable – by phone, email, letter or at their regular surgeries.

This is an apolitical issue. It’s a humanitarian crisis of our own making. We can change this.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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#42Days A #HungerStrke in protest against #UniversalCredit Day 28. Where is the Love?

“Don’t judge a man (person) until you’ve walked two moons in his (their) moccasins”

Hmmm…this is a tricky one. We know that folk who’ve been slapped in the face with unemployment, often with the added assaults of physical and/ or mental health problems, have to deal with the added indignity of prejudice and discrimination to their plight.

These same people know what the world thinks of them, through the deluge of hateful rhetoric from the mainstream media. They’re ‘Skivers’ who suffer from generational ‘worklessness’ a terrible condition handed on through generations.

We watch the funny people, with their flat screen TV’s, iPhones and designer clothes on zoo TV, as they smoke, drink and gamble their way through life.

Although we know this isn’t the truth, and that the media have strived to deliver this bizarre caricature…

But it sticks, doesn’t it?

Today though, I’m not interested in this particular flavour of nonsense…

No, I’m keen to lift the curtain on the creators and purveyors of this Draconian system.

What goes on in the Minds of the people behind Universal Credit?

I’m inclined to start with Nazi Germany, where the third Reich made it easy for their soldiers to mete out horrific atrocities against the Jews by ‘othering’ the objects of their hate, calling them Untermenschen – sub-human.

Or the Hutus in Rwanda, who slaughtered millions of their country folk, mainly Tutsis, referring to them as ‘Cockroaches’

If we look at the Milgram Experiment we know that a large percentage of folk, when faced with perceived authority figures, have a tendency to do as they’re told – to conform – often to the point where they believe they’ve killed someone.

We’ve just heard from the BMJ – the British Medical Journal – an esteemed publication – that an estimated 120 thousand people in the UK have died prematurely because of austerity.

What must be going on in the Minds of the people behind these policies? What pressures/ beliefs/ cultural norms are they reacting to, to somehow make this ok?

Already we’ve heard responses to the BMJ paper – where folk dismiss the findings, blandly stating that correlation does not mean causation.

But, fuck, it’s tempting to draw conclusions, isn’t it?

How did they arrive at the belief that the tough love stick is required to control the unemployed masses, where the already wealthy require the loving caress of even more money to keep them sweet?

Is it as simple as ‘These wealthy folk are just like me’ ? and, ‘These poor folk are in poverty because of their own fecklessness’?

If that’s the case, where do these beliefs come from and, more to the point, how are they propagated?

Meanwhile, down at the coal face, we have the hundreds of Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who are implementing these austere policies – the 42 day wait between the application for Universal Credit and the delivery of any money.

What kind of individual deliberately omits to tell folk about the, granted measly, crisis loans that do little to alleviate the financial pain.

What must be going on in the mind of the staff who strike claimants with benefit sanctions – where people have their money stopped for anything between 3 days and 3 years?

Surely they must know the untold hardship they’re causing by cutting off a person’s only access to money.

We hear that staff are given bonuses for delivering these sanctions…but what would YOU do in these circumstances? Would the temptation of a juicy bonus get you to financially fuck up someone’s life?

Would it?

What if you were immersed in a culture where benefit applicants were seen as somehow less than you? Somehow different…

The reason I ask all these questions is because I really don’t have a fucking clue.

I know I’ve flogged this relentlessly, but all, not some, not most, ALL the people I met on my way around the edge of our lovely island, were lovely, fabulous, generous and hospitable – trusting and trustworthy…

These were people of all political persuasions and walks of life.

Conclusion – people are fabulous.

So what in the name of cracky pants leads to the punitive, hateful behaviours by the policy makers and the individuals delivering these ill thought through policies?

It would be so easy for us to ‘other’ them…label them as psychopaths…sycophants…powercrazed…

Given the chance, would you deliver a retaliatory system on them? A, ‘That’ll teach the bastards’ policy that would make them suffer?

Look, I didn’t say I had the answers. If you want to look at another experiment that demonstrates the inhumanity of humans, take a look at the Zimbardo mock prison debacle…

Walk a Mile

Chris

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23/11/17 The Budget #42Days A #HungerStrke in protest against #UniversalCredit Day 23 Are you Taking the Piss?

Well, that was the Autumn budget – after teasing us with a variety of potential changes to Universal Credit, the chancellor, Philip Hammond finally settled on making the 42 day wait for Universal Credit into a 35 day wait for Universal Credit.

The Independent called it a ‘Screeching U-Turn’

Declaring it’ll cost the government £1.5 Billion…

To be brutally frank – no it isn’t – and no it won’t.

A cynic might say…yeah, ok, I might say this was the plan all along. Have an unacceptable 42 day wait between applying for and receiving a benefit, then generously lop 7 days off it.

Has this just been a long convoluted charade to make a 35 day wait more acceptable?

People have little choice than to throw themselves to the mercy of high interest money lenders.

Sunny, a purveyor of payday loans lends money at 1277% per annum – that’s £3709 on interest alone over a year if an under 25 person borrows the paltry £58.10 per week that they’re expecting to get once their Universal Credit comes in, over the 5 week wait.

That same sum of money can be lent to the government at 0.25%

Over that same year, the government would pay back about 73 pence in interest for that same £290.50.

This is a transfer of debt onto the people who can least afford it.

We are pushing people into spirals of debt without any hope of ever clambering out of that abyss.

People can get crisis payments, I hear you cry. Remember though, these payments are half the Universal Credit rate, and they have to be paid back.

Who gets these payments is entirely hit or miss. Some people, who rely purely on the advisors at the department of work and pensions (DWP) for this valuable information, just aren’t told about its existence. Others – many others – are told they can only have crisis payments of £29.05 a week TWICE over the 5/6 week period.

When they ask what they’re supposed to do for the rest of the time, they’re blandly told that they can go to food banks.

Bear in mind, food banks can only give you food parcels 3 times a year.

Throw benefit sanctioning into the mix, and you’ve got a perfect storm. This is where people are punished for not filling out a form correctly, or missing a meeting, usually for valid reasons.

The government tells us these are used as a last resort – but with the recent roll out of Universal Credit in Leeds, it’s been reported that 25% of people have been sanctioned for some perceived misdemeanour or other.

Article 6 of European convention on human rights, states

‘Article 6 provides a detailed right to a fair trial, including the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, and other minimum rights for those charged with a criminal offence (adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence, access to legal representation, right to examine witnesses against them or have them examined, right to the free assistance of an interpreter).’

People are being harshly punished today. They often don’t even know who their accusers are. The DWP will tell them about the nameless and faceless bureaucrats, named THE DECISION MAKER, who hold their financial futures in their hands.

If the Draconian system is to continue, indivuals must be held to account – their names must be made public before they inflict untold financial damage on those on benefits and their families.

In other news – the hunger strike continues. Nothing has changed. People are still being arbitrarily punished by a system that is designed to do exactly that.

There has been no U-Turn. Now is not a time for political point scoring. This is a cross party humanitarian issue.

Go to your MP’s and your local councillors and tell them again this is unacceptable.

Remember – Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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22/11/17 The first (and five star) review on Amazon of My book!

Honesty

ByAdrian Baileyon 21 November 2017

Verified Purchase

Not a literary masterpiece, but that’s the last thing it sets out to be. Its value is not in how it is written but in what it says. Be assured, though, although the review here covers some pretty serious issues, the book is a good read, with lots of smiles along the way. It has a relatively small number of ‘professional’ pages at start and end but is mainly conversational and intimate in style.

Chris set out in 2011 to walk around the edge of Britain (something he’s yet to complete). A good chunk of the book comprises his blog entries from Edinburgh, around the west coast of Scotland, Cumbria, Wirral – and the many people he meets. He set out with the belief that most people are lovely and trustworthy, and this is what he found. The walk was to highlight mental health awareness and challenge stigma. The pages at the end of the book explain how this idea blossomed into ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’ events across the country, backed by the charity See Me and others.

Before this, there’s a powerful, often raw account of the author’s childhood which is happy and sad, sometimes devestating, and all the signs of a nascent ‘mental’ state that is going to cause him big trouble, pain, bewilderment, shame, isolation, fear. It’s a privileged, brutally honest insight for the reader, written with intelligence and at its best concision. As part of his self-described loon personhood, it’s also very funny throughoughout without ever detracting from the seriousness. It needs to carry trigger warnings for many reasons, not least because it refers to suicidal ideation and sex abuse.

Myself, I could identify with much of Chris’s experiences; others will too but the book is a testament to the fact that there is nobody who doesn’t have mental health issues. Part of his task is to gently educate society at large, but also those who may be reluctant to deny that their distress is not, in fact, a virus. I really hope the book has a wide readership, each reader unique of course, but with a relevance to particular abstract categories such as professionals, campaigners, carers, media people, teachers – anybody whose life does, or should recognise the need for ever greater awareness of mental health. For the many who are suffering or have suffered, the book will be interesting, and for some there will be points of disagreement. The diagnosis that Chris accepts is of borderline personality disorder: there are campaigners who have had this diagnosis and are seeking to have it overturned. Chris would not want to argue with them. A central point of his mission is bringing people of all sorts of different, often opposing, views, beliefs attitudes, political orientations together, to work together to address the prejudices all of us have, a recognition that these are most often not malicious. His primary practical task is to build a ‘trickle up’ movement from individuals, groups, organisations and communities to

influence funding, resourcing, and destigmatising mental health services which are structurally embedded in state thinking in unacceptable ways.

Chris intends to resume his walk in the south west of England, but not just yet. He’s currently on a 42 days hunger strike protesting about the time the new ‘universal credit’ social security benefits system in the UK takes to reach people. As in his book, he has a strong belief that individuals can make a difference, and more so when they come together. There are interesting videos and information on the See Me Walk a Mile in My Shoes website, a good complement to the book. When I finished reading the book I felt I knew more about mental health, more about myself, and pleased to have met Chris. One of the people he met on his walk had suffered deep depression, a farmer, and he advised three approaches o mental health (and life): ‘Honesty, honesty. honesty’. I think these three words (in that order) provide a fitting distillation of the book.

You can buy the book directly from Trigger Press here P&P is free

You can also order it from Amazon in the UK and USA

Not a literary masterpiece!!! Really!! None taken – I’ll happily accept those 5 stars though

Walk a Mile

Chris

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